Friday, November 6, 2009

An On-Demand "Must": Balasko, Baye, Caravaca & Carré in A FRENCH GIGOLO

In line to become one of those French cinema treasures like Moreau, Signoret, or Deneuve (but more comedic), Josiane Balasko, who will turn 60 next year (she's shown below with her cinematog-
rapher Robert Alazraki), has appeared in 67 films, written 20 and directed seven. While her acting is almost always on point, her film-making skills can be up and down. TrustMovies is delighted to report that this lady is at the top of her game with the new A FRENCH GIGOLO (Cliente is the origi-
nal title), a timely, funny, fla-
vorsome film that looks at everything -- from sexuality to the economy, family to friend-
ship, American Indians to home-shopping TV -- with savvy eye and brain in-gear.

As the director and adapter (of her own novel), Balasko (above, right) tells the story of an attractive and successful middle-aged woman (the ever beautiful and intelligent Natalie Baye), who, after a divorce from her husband, takes to bedding male escorts from time to time, a practice that she finds works well with her busy schedule as a TV show host and enables her to enjoy attractive men without getting too close. Her sister, played by Balasko, works with her on the show, the production staff of which appears to serve as the pair's pleasant and closely-knit "family."

One fine day a new escort, winningly played by Eric Caravaca (above), with whom Balasko worked a few years back on the very dark and strange policier Cette femme-la, brings an added je ne sais quoi to his "escorting" -- and everything changes. From this premise, which works extremely well because the psychologies and back stories of the film's characters are so tellingly conceived, Balasko and her crack cast open up various worlds to us -- a family, the escort business, that TV show (below) -- that seem both specific and real, but more important, highly entertaining.

One of the more interesting touches Balasko provides as filmmaker is having her characters talk to us from time to time, briefly and without undue fuss. They don't stop, stare into the camera and explain things, as is often done. Rather, we hear their voice as they go about their business, almost as though they're part of a novel that has suddenly come to visual life. Economical and un-showy, this provides us added information, along with the characters' thoughts and feelings, and it works quite well.

Because everyone in this ensemble is given his or her due, we come to care for them rather a lot, particularly the three most important characters: the gigolo, his client and his wife. The latter is essayed by the lovely young actress Isabelle Carré (above), who, interestingly enough, played opposite Ms Baye a few years back in another terrific film about love, sex and unusual relationships: Noémie Lvovsky's Les Sentiments. Balasko also sees to it that we care about both the sister and an American Indian, played with charm, humor and an easy dignity that's never pushed by George Aguilar (below with Ms Balasko.)

Because of the manner in which the central situation is set up -- and then handled so well -- it's inevitable that someone must lose. Yet how it all plays out provides a thoughtful, funny and moving exploration of love and sex in difficult economic times, the differing meanings this has for women and men, and how both will use and abuse it, even when they try their best not to.

Ms Baye, in particular (shown at right), gives a meaty performance, in which she looks her age (but very well), allowing a little flab to show along with the intelligence, feeling and style. In fact, she's yet another French cinema treasure. Catch her award-winning performance in Le Petit Lieutenant, if you have not already.

French Gigolo
just made its On-Demand debut via most major cable companies. Check your TV reception-provider, go to IFC-on-Demand -- and bask in another sophisticated pleasure from France.

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